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Rivals now teammates for North
Former East Union standout TeeJay Gordon pitches the ball to a teammate during the Norths practice for the Central California Lions All-Star Football Game Wednesday at Stagg High. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO

STOCKTON — Rivalries have been set aside for the 38th Annual Central California Lions All-Star Football Game, one of the four oldest events of its kind in California.

But former East Union standout quarterback TeeJay Gordon admits that he has reminded Manteca High grads Robert Ladiges and Josh Nkwocha of his team’s epic 10-7 victory in Week 10. That ended the Lancers’ 10-year losing streak to Manteca, which also had the outright Valley Oak League championship and a perfect 10-0 regular season on the line.

“I’ve joked about it at times, but I try not to rub it in too much,” Gordon said after practice Wednesday at Stagg High.

Ladiges is using Manteca’s season-ending two-game losing streak, which includes a first-round playoff exit, as motivation for Saturday’s game.

“I plan on winning,” said Ladiges, a workhorse running back who earned the VOL’s MVP honor in 2010. “I lost my last high school game, so I want to go out with a win. I’ve got to get that taste out of my mouth.”

Ripon High defensive lineman Andy Bunting joins the Manteca city trio on the North squad this Saturday at the University of the Pacific’s Amos Alonzo Stagg Memorial Stadium.

North players are getting the chance to meet new people and get reacquainted with former foes this week, which includes two- and three-a-day practices, a special dinner put on by the Linden Lions and a trip to a Stockton Ports game.

The North holds a 22-14-1 advantage and has won six of the last seven over the South, which consists of schools from Stanislaus and Merced counties.

Gordon wasn’t on the North roster initially, as he replaces Manteca High quarterback and longtime friend Matt Burrows.

Burrows, the VOL’s Offensive Player of the Year, injured an ankle during the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV baseball championship game. He will also likely miss Friday’s High School All-Star Baseball-Softball Classic at UOP.

Gordon, Burrows and Nkwocha were teammates on the Manteca Jaguars varsity team that captured the Central California Junior Football League title when they were 8th graders.

“I enjoy the camaraderie with everybody,” Nkwocha said. “We used to be rivals with these people, but for a week they become your brothers.”

The game will have extra meaning for both Gordon and Nkwocha, who will leave football behind for good after Saturday. Gordon will try out for Modesto Junior College’s basketball team, while Nkwocha pursues a career in the medical field at UC Santa Barbara.

“It’s pretty special, especially for me — this is going to be my last game,” Nkwocha said. “It gives me one more chance to put the pads on and everything, one last hurrah before I hang it up for good.”

Ladiges will go on and play for Pacific University in Oregon, and Bunting will look to advance his football career at MJC.

For now, Bunting is relishing the opportunity to play alongside some of the top high school players in the region.

“It’s special being the only guy from Ripon — that’s a big deal to me,” he said. “Not every school is represented here, so it feels great to be selected for this. This lets you know that you’re better than the average high school football player, that’s you’re a pretty good player.”